Female Characters in House of Mirth

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Angad Bagai English 63 American Fiction 1900-1950 Ronna Johnson Essay 1 In the very first interaction between protagonist, Lily Bart and Lawrence Selden in Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, Bart outlines that, “there’s the difference- a girl must marry, a man may if he chooses,” (Wharton, 14.) The sentiment behind this statement, while being certainly true, is generally not disputed by any of the female characters in the novel, all of whom fall into the leisure class of society. On the contrary, largely due to the social class that they belong to, the majority of the female characters accept the treatment that befalls them and therefore make becoming the ideal ‘trophy wife’ their central aim. Throwing balls and parties becomes their main activity, and a marriage that is based more on the reputation and status it provides than love is generally the norm. What I wish to convey is that due to this acceptance of this fate, these women are unable to experience real happiness in their marriages. I believe that in a way, this is a critique of the leisure class marriage. In order to delve deeper into proving this hypothesis, we must consider various examples. In The House of Mirth, there are women who certainly fall into the leisure class and looking at them in more depth will be central to this study. These include the protagonist of the novel, Lily Bart, along with other leisure class women such as Judy Trenor and Bertha Dorset, who are aware that marriage in this leisure class society is merely a tool to ascend the social ladder to the top rung. But we must also consider the antithesis to this view, which is exemplified by Nettie Struther. She, unlike these other women does not seek a position in the “Vanderbilt 400” and does not marry based on that. And when she is seen in the novel, she is genuinely happy, enjoying a successful marriage that is based on love
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